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The Talking Issue

A Young Man Who Was A Member of A Paramilitary Gang...

The Brits may have left Northern Ireland and the IRA may be all but completely decommissioned, but Loyalist areas of Belfast are still firmly in the grip of paramilitary thugs.
October 2, 2008, 12:00am

The Brits may have left Northern Ireland and the IRA may be all but completely decommissioned, but Loyalist (the guys who loved the Queen and hated the IRA) areas of Belfast are still firmly in the grip of paramilitary thugs. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Did anyone really think that decades of bloodshed and hatred would just morph into a pile of daisies with smiley faces on them just because some soldiers went somewhere else?

While the Catholic areas of town are not completely peaceful and calm, they are like the Elysian Fields compared to a neighborhood like the Protestant Loyalist streets of Tiger’s Bay, where I recently spent a weekend.

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The paramilitaries there are police and criminals all in one. Even though there’s no IRA to fight against and therefore no political cause anymore, their soldiers are so inextricably linked to the way the criminal underworld operates that they cannot stop themselves from carrying on with their usual shenanigans, such as tarring and feathering their enemies in the street and kneecapping local “hoods” (which basically means “extreme Irish chavs”). They operate in much the same way that the gangs in American ghettos do. They are involved in punishment beatings, organized crime, and pressuring young men into joining up to become little mini-versions of them.

It was while I was in Tiger’s Bay that I met a lad named George at a youth center. We drank Coke and talked. He had been bullied into becoming a member of a Loyalist paramilitary organization, but he spent half the interview denying he was involved in paramilitary activity at all. Eventually he said fuck it and told me about stuff like his mate who got his head blown off.

Vice: So the Loyalist paramilitaries still control areas like Tiger’s Bay?

George:

Aye. They have a lot of power over people here. They control who comes into the area and who doesn’t.

And they won’t let Catholics in?

Ha! Well, of course they’d still kill a Catholic if he came into the wrong street, but on the day to day they’re actually more bothered about the UVF people from down the road in Mount Vernon.

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But they’re a Loyalist group, like yours.

Aye, but my area is Tiger’s Bay UDA and they’re Mount Vernon UVF and I suppose you could say the two groups don’t get along that well. [

laughs

]

Despite the end of the Troubles, all the small armies and gangs that were operating at the time are all still fighting.

Yeah, but only in the Loyalist areas. Before the end of the Troubles I hated them Catholics, but now some of them are my best friends. The Catholics are lucky because in their areas there is no paramilitary presence at all these days. Around here, the paras will kill anybody they don’t like. They think they are the law. I hate them, but I fear them too.

When you were younger did you have confrontations with Catholics?

Every night, all along the interfaces. Park Avenue, Alexander Park too—there’s a peace wall through the middle of it. They would shout shit at us like “You orange this, you orange that” and we would shout back. It used to be a wasteland. We were always throwing bottles back and forth over it, bricks, shouting at each other. It was like a scene from

Braveheart

.

Were the fights organized?

Yeah. You’d go up there and take one of their houses, then they’d come back and take one of ours. Back and forth, every day. There was a siren in Tiger’s Bay, and if you heard it go you’d rush to the interface. If you were far away you’d get taxis there so as not to miss out on the action.

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What about immigration to Belfast? Is that a problem for you?

I have a big dislike for Polish people and blacks. We have no jobs here anyway, and then they come and steal them and get cheeky in bars and that. They look at you, laughing. There are hundreds of them here. There are like 12 of them in each house. It’s all Polish, Romanians, blacks. They have more right to a job than me. They get all the benefits.

And what about this new thing called “hoods”? They’re the kids of paramilitaries and they’re like chavs, right?

I hate them. Scumbags. They’re just criminals. I can’t understand those people. Stealing from shops is fine because they have insurance. Stealing from homes in other areas is fine too. But taking from people in your own area is wrong. They’re also always getting high and that’s what makes them so crazy.

Are drugs a big problem now?

Yes. Prescription drugs mainly but also lots of blow and dope. I see people with tins of gas, which I think is disgusting.

Do the paras come down hard on the kids that use drugs?

Son, the paramilitaries are the ones that are selling the drugs to them! Both the UDA and UVF deal drugs. The IRA won’t ever sell drugs. Those guys catch you dealing and you are dead, simple as that.

What do the UDA get up to here?

They lend kids loads of money that they know they can’t pay back, then they say you’re either dead or with us now.

Do you know people who joined?

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Yeah, but none of them joined for political reasons. Between here and Mount Vernon there is a long-running feud—that area is UVF and over here we are UDA. Kids from Tiger’s Bay are targets for UVF gunmen, so they join the UDA for protection. Once you are in you can only get out two ways: become a Christian or pay. It’s about two grand to get out.

Who did you join?

UYM, the young UDA. I joined because I was going to get a bad beating. I was caught by a gang of 30 UVF guys over Mount Vernon way. While I was being beaten I heard a guy break a bottle, but they never used it. I had to run. Luckily a lady in Tiger’s Bay pulled me into her house and said, “Stay here.” The gang were outside waiting for me and I had to call in a few big men from the Bay—UDA guys. They got me out. I got death threats after that so I joined the UYM.

What did being in the Protestant paramilitaries involve?

Meetings once a month. They were nonsense. I used to fall asleep. There were times when there was rioting, and we were told to be there and be ready to fight. We were restricted, though, like we couldn’t hit anybody first. Wait for them to hit you, then you can go back the next day and give them a real kicking.

Were you armed?

Nah, not really. We got some bombs made. That’s all. While I was in the UYM I saw my mate die. The side of his head was blown off by a gas bomb. Catholics threw a bomb over the interface and he was trying to throw it back over but he only got it to about here [

positions hand next to head

] when it went off. The bombs were set with very short fuses so as to stop people from throwing them back. It was tit for tat. We threw them into Catholic areas too.